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UN Report Calls Afghan Corruption 'Crippling'

VOA News 19 January 2010

A new United Nations report says corruption produces almost as much money in Afghanistan as the country's illegal drug trade.

The report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released Tuesday says Afghan citizens paid $2.5 billion in bribes over a 12-month period. U.N. officials estimate Afghan drug lords made $2.8 billion over the same time span.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa says a survey of 7,600 Afghans found it is impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe. And he called the system of kickbacks a "crippling tax" on some of the world's poorest people.

The report found half of the Afghans surveyed said they had to bribe at least one public official, and that most officials asked for the payment openly.

According to the survey, nearly 25 percent of all bribes were paid to police or local officials.

The U.N. report says the average bribe was worth $160, equal to about 40 percent of the country's per capita gross domestic product - the value of all the goods and services produced divided by the number of people in a country.

Almost 60 percent of the Afghans surveyed said corruption is a bigger concern than security or the economy.

The U.N. report compares corruption in Afghanistan to a fast-spreading cancer and calls on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to take urgent measures.

It also urges nations set to gather for an international donor conference on Afghanistan later this month in London to set clear benchmarks on reducing corruption.

Western nations have been urging the Afghan leader to crack down on corruption since he won re-election in a vote marred by rampant fraud.

On Saturday, the Afghan Parliament rejected 10 of Mr. Karzai's 17 Cabinet nominees, complaining they are corrupt or unqualified.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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